Archive for the ‘October 2010’ Category

How To Fail in Business

According to which business consultant you ask, anywhere from seven to nine out of every ten new businesses will fail within their first 3 years. And, among those that fail, the owners rarely understand why they failed. In nearly every single case, one of two mistakes, or a combination of both, led to the downfall. This holds true whether we’re talking automobiles, toaster ovens, widgets, or rod building.

The first problem lies with market exposure.  Often I hear from companies who believe advertising is something you do after you’ve become successful. Unfortunately, It doesn’t work that way. Advertising is the first and most important expense for any new business. Any start up business that doesn’t sufficiently budget for advertising isn’t going very far. And free blurbs on internet forums and blogs won’t cut the mustard. Advertising is worth exactly what you pay for it.

The second part of any successful business equation is the value offered to the customer.  Custom rod builder Jim Gamble phrased this in perhaps the best manner I’ve heard. According to him it’s all about the cost to benefit ratio. And he’s dead on the money – as far as the consumer is concerned, this is where the rubber meets the road.

Whether we’re talking blank manufacturers, component supply dealers, magazines, clubs or events, those that have succeeded have offered their customers a great value. Those that have failed have not.

Owners of failed businesses, in rod building or otherwise, are quick to offer the usual excuses, “A competitor said bad things about us,” or “Nobody realized how good our product was.” And there’s plenty more sour grapes where those come from. But if you ask the consumer why they didn’t patronize a business or service, the answer will be much different and nearly always the same – not enough value was offered for the price being charged. In other words, a poor cost to benefit ratio. In the mind of most consumers, that’s all that counts. If you believe otherwise, you’re not apt to succeed in business.

Tom Kirkman


Giving Credit

In February of 1999 I published a Russ Gooding article outlining his technique for inlaying feathers on fishing rods. Russ didn’t take credit as the originator of the idea – neither he nor I had any idea who was the first person to do such a thing. Within a month of the article’s publication, I had no less than 12 letters and phone calls from individuals, each one advising that they had originated the concept and demanding that I credit them with the idea. Some were adamant. My quandary was how to determine which of these dozen folks, if any, actually was the originator. With no documentation to go on, I left the matter alone.

Using colored epoxy to “marble” a rod blank is another concept where the originator is unknown. RodMaker published an article on the technique by Mike Barkley in 2004. Mike didn’t claim to be the originator. The earliest instance of this short lived craze that most anybody can remember is from a photograph posted on a web album by someone known only as “Jason.” And if you have ever seen the work of “Rods by Dru” you could make the case that his work may have been the foundation for the later marbling idea.

Sometimes the originator of a technique can be determined. Back in 2001 Rich Forhan called and said he was going to submit an article on a single foot guide locking wrap he’d developed. With no real prospect of making any money from it, he simply asked that I give him credit and name the technique after him, provided of course, that no one else came forward with proof that they had done anything similar previously. They never did and today we know that technique as the “Forhan Locking Wrap.”

Sometimes there are cases of parallel development but the earliest originator can still be determined. In 2006 a 3-article decorative wrap series by Bill Colby arrived on my desk. One of his techniques was extremely similar to something a west coast rod builder named Scott Throop had been doing for some time. A bit later, Scott called and offered me an article on his method. I turned him down because I already had Bill’s article on virtually the same thing. After a discussion between the three of us, however, I decided to run both men’s articles so that no one would feel slighted. Because Bill readily agreed that Scott had been doing the wrap far longer than himself, Bill added a notation to his article stating that Scott had been first to do it.

Scott called his wrap the “3D Tiger Wrap” and it quickly became a hit. But it bothered me that so many builders were failing to credit Scott for what he had given them. I mentioned this on the RBO forum ( back in 2007 with this message:

Posted by: Tom Kirkman (moderator)

Date: June 13, 2007 10:28PM

“… I hope when builders use this technique they’ll tell people it’s a “Throop 3D Tiger Wrap” and not just a “3D Tiger Wrap.” It’s not money and it’s not much prestige, but it’s the fair and decent thing to do.”

And it’s still the decent thing to do. We don’t always know where a specific idea first originated. But sometimes we do. If you use a method or technique and know for a fact who the originator was, you’re obliged by good ethical behavior to give credit where credit is due.

Tom Kirkman


Word of Mouth

It’s often been said that word of mouth is the best advertising there is. There’s certainly some truth to that. In years past, however, word of mouth was slow to travel but the advent of the internet has changed all that. Good talk, and just as importantly, bad talk, now spreads as quick as lightning.

This has more than a few in the rod building industry and craft a bit worried. Internet forums and chat rooms are rampant with folks ready and waiting to “put the bad word” on somebody for something. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear from a manufacturer or dealer who tells me that a customer has told them to either meet certain demands (usually unfair) or they’ll “Go on the forums and ruin you!” Extortion, blackmail, etc., call it what you want, but many are terribly afraid it will happen to them.

Rod builders are equally concerned. Recently one of the forum participants at asked for opinions on a situation he was experiencing and was afraid could get out of hand. In a nutshell, he had done everything correctly and been more than fair, but wound up with a customer who was dissatisfied nonetheless. The builder was very concerned that any bad word of mouth from the customer could ruin his new rod building business. Thus, he felt compelled to give in to the customer’s unfair demands.

My advice is to do only what is right and ignore those who threaten to “put the bad word on you.”  I seriously doubt that anyone in the history of custom rod building has been more maligned than myself (had the internet been around in the 70’s and 80’s there are a few that might have challenged me for that title!). And yet, even with all the badmouthing and innuendo, RodMaker Magazine continues to gain more and more subscribers every month. The International Custom Rod Building Exposition has grown every year since its inception. Everything on my end just keeps getting better and better.

How can this be, you ask? Well, it comes down to giving people a little bit of credit in the intelligence department. The fact is, most people are reasonable and clear thinking. Most of them see the common internet “badmouthing” for what it is and not only overlook it, but shun those who participate in it. While some of the stuff that goes on can be a little hard to swallow at times, the best course is always to ignore it. Bad word of mouth can’t hurt you if it’s not true. Never respond to an untruth. Give the public a little bit of credit in being able to separate fact from fiction and to see the motive behind such poor conduct. People are not nearly as dumb as you might think.

Tom Kirkman


Always Exceed Expectations

When I was actively engaged in building and selling custom rods, I made it a point to always pad my delivery times by a week or two. If I knew I could get a rod done for a customer in four weeks, I’d tell him that it would take at least five. This accomplished a couple of things – it gave me a bit of a cushion in case something went awry with a backorder or a new procedure that might have to be redone. And most importantly, it allowed me to always deliver the rod before the customer was expecting it. All were pleasantly surprised when they got a call letting them know their rod was ready ahead of schedule.

The International Custom Rod Building Exposition started out much, much smaller than it is these days. The first one was held in conjunction with Barry Serviente’s Fly Fishing Show in Charlotte, NC. I had a few tricks up my sleeve in terms of promotion but didn’t let the cat out of the bag beforehand. Most vendors arrived with tentative if not low expectations. When the dust settled they were astonished to realize, for the first time in the history of custom rod building events, that an event had actually supported them instead of being an event that required their support. As I was walking to the concession area at the end of the first day, I ran into Joe Meehan from American Tackle. I remember clearly what he said to me, “This show has exceeded my expectations.”

Never promise more than you can deliver and always deliver more than you promise. Remember this key piece of business advice and you will go far.

Tom Kirkman


Changing Media

These days, magazine editors are constantly faced with changing technology. The trick is to know when something is a fad and can be dispensed with, and when something is here to stay and needs to be implemented.

I first met Ian Scott of back in 1999. About a year later, after much effort on his part to convince me to set up an internet site for RodMaker, I spoke to him in person and gave him the go ahead to build a subscription page for the magazine on the web. Although I wasn’t convinced at the time, the ensuing years proved that over half the readership actually preferred subscribing or renewing online rather than by mail or phone.

Another media advancement came more recently in the form of “blogging.” I immediately saw the possibility it offered to converse with the readers on a daily basis and offer them assorted glimpses into the magazine. What you’re reading here is the result of my belief that blogging is going to be around for awhile. It’s another aspect of the changing technology that has already worked out very well for the magazine.

Other current media trends, however, don’t excite me nearly as much.  Don’t ever expect to get a “tweet” from RodMaker. I’ll never put the magazine on Twitter. Nor will you ever see a RodMaker Facebook page. One local and very ardent subscriber was so convinced that RodMaker needed a Facebook presence that he went about setting up a page for me. I hated to hurt his feelings after such a kind gesture, but I’m not a Facebook kind of guy. I’ve never been on Facebook and never will be. I may be wrong, but I believe both Twitter and Facebook are passing fancies that aren’t likely to be around in another year or two. I made the decision to skip both of them a good while back.

I have put special collections of RodMaker articles on Special Edition CDs, but have no intention of ever offering electronic versions of RodMaker. I’ve watched too many other publications go that route and in almost every instance, it’s hurt rather than helped them. I still believe that most folks who subscribe to RodMaker prefer something tangible for their money. Something they can carry with them and read at lunch, in the evening or on the commuter train.

The worst thing that can happen in today’s changing media world is to make the wrong decision and suddenly find that you’ve been left behind. So far that hasn’t happened here at RodMaker. But you never know what new medium may pop up next year or even next month. The tough part is figuring out which ones to pass on by and which ones to get on board with.

Tom Kirkman


Historical Interviews

RodMaker has been proud to lead the way in introducing the vast majority of the newest and most important rod building techniques and methods of the past 15 years. But we’ve been equally busy during that same time period documenting important rod building history of the past. Part of that endeavor has included a series of interviews commissioned by the magazine and with only a couple exceptions, conducted by Andy Dear over a several year period. The result has been a record of some of the most influential persons in the rod building and fishing industry, preserved for posterity.

Some of these interviews have been bittersweet. Both Jimmy Green and Press Powell passed away shortly after publication of their RodMaker interviews. In fact, these were the final public interviews given by both men. Those interviews were considered so important and so timely, that other editors contacted me and requested permission to reprint them in their own publications.

Other moments have been completely uplifting. Most folks in the custom rod building field assumed that Gene Bullard had passed on years earlier. That is, until Andy Dear found him alive and well in a small Texas town, selling jewelry and flower seeds by email list. Shortly after Andy conducted the ensuing interview with him, I commissioned and paid Gene to write a serious of 12 articles for RodMaker on various aspects of custom rod building history. He finished all but one before he, too, passed on.

Of course there have been other “mini-interviews” in RodMaker with notable  persons on a variety of specific rod building topics (Jason Brunner at St. Croix has done several for us), but those listed below constitute the full fledged memories and thoughts on rod building and fishing from a “who’s who” of well known rod building personalities.

Gary Loomis (LCI, G. Loomis, Inc. North Fork Composites) Volume 2 Issue #5.

Wayne Fowlkes (Wayne’s Custom Rods/Gudebrod Catalog) Volume 2 Issue #6.

Roger Seiders (Flex Coat, Co.) Volume 5 Issue #4

Jimmy Green (Fenwick) Volume 5 Issue #5.

Tom Morgan (R.L. Winston Rod Company) Volume 6 Issue #1.

C. F. Burkheimer (Burkheimer/Peak Rods) Volume 6 Issue #2.

Dale Clemens (Clemens Custom Tackle/Numerous Books) Volume 6 Issue #3.

Dick Kantner (Graphite USA) Volume 6 Issue #6.

Press Powell (Powell Rod Co.) Volume 7 Issue #2.

Tom Dorsey (Thomas & Thomas) Volume 8 Issue #2

Gene Bullard (Bullard International) Volume 8 #6

It has been a privilege for me to publish the thoughts of these gentlemen over the past few years. I hope you’ve enjoyed each one, and if you haven’t read them, you still have time.

Tom Kirkman


Epoxy Obsolete?

Since the mid to late 1970’s, 2-part epoxies have been the standard thread finishing medium for nearly all commercial rod companies and most custom rod builders. But that may be about to change.

If you follow this blog you know that earlier this year I was sent a sample of a new epoxy that I found to be clear as water – night and day clearer than any other epoxy I’ve ever seen. The builders I provided samples to were no less enthusiastic about it – several raved about its overall properties. I was told that it could be released to the rod building market in the very near future. The thing is… it’s still an epoxy.

So what’s wrong with that? Nothing really, except that many rod builders are still confused and befuddled by epoxy. When left to its own devices, most epoxies do a remarkable job. For some reason, however, rod builders tend to want to heat it, brush it, blow on it, spin it, poke it, etc., etc., etc., and in the process create all sorts of problems for themselves. Commercial rod companies don’t particularly like having to devote large drum turning devices and hours of rotation time in order to use epoxy. Thus, it seems that everyone keeps an eye on the horizon for something better to come along. Apparently it’s about to happen – we’re talking very soon.

Commercial coatings manufacturers in the last decade have been almost commanded to develop environmentally friendly coatings that will perform as well and last as long as more traditional coatings. It was rough going at first, but there are several eco-friendly systems in place now that certainly rival anything that’s come before. Now the rod  building industry is about to benefit from some of this developmental work.

Just last week I was made aware of a new thread wrap coating that is presently undergoing final tests. It is said to be clear as water, hard as a rock (as hard or harder than PermaGloss) yet more flexible than any urethane or epoxy. It’s also said to dry smooth as glass and will build the same depth as most high-build epoxies in just two applications. One will be sufficient on light rods. It requires no measuring nor mixing. It will sell for the same or less as any of the popular urethanes or epoxies in common use today. Best of all – it’s said to be the most user-friendly product yet made available for coating thread wraps or rod blanks. The way it was described to me, this new product will do to epoxy what epoxy did to old fashioned varnish back in the 1070’s. That’s right – this new product could become the defacto standard thread coating in just a few years, if not sooner.

And… there is a strong possibility that it will be ready in time for launching at the 2011 International Custom Rod Building Exposition.

Tom Kirkman


Breaking Fishing Rods

About this time last year I was in the early stages of preparing an article on how to identify the causes of rod breakage by examining the broken rod sections. Every break leaves behind telltale clues – you just have to know what to look for and understand what you’re seeing.

In order to provide the readers with photographs of what various types of breaks looked like, it was necessary to ensure that the appearance of each break type was, in fact, repeatable per each type of abuse or misuse. This required breaking many dozens of rod blanks – over 200 were purposely broken for the sake of the article’s accuracy. This process was somewhat unsettling for a rod builder accustomed to taking good care of his own rods, but in order to ensure that we were getting verbatim results each time, it had to be done. Just breaking a blank or two in a certain way and then stating that its particular appearance was indicative of all blanks broken that way wouldn’t be good enough – the results had to be borne out by observation of many, many verbatim breaks of each type.

And thus, the biggest problem with getting the article underway – who in the heck was going to pay for over 200 first quality, high-end graphite rod blanks, just to purposely bust them up?

The answer arrived one day when a package arrived from St. Croix Rod Company. Head blank designer Jason Brunner had discussed the project with me earlier and offered to send some first quality rod blanks for me to break and photograph. I expected to get about a dozen, which while helpful, wouldn’t be nearly enough to get the sort of dependable results I needed. So when I opened the box that Jason had sent I was pleasantly shocked and surprised to find over 100 rod blanks inside. Most importantly, about 75 of them were the exact same model which helped greatly with certain aspects of the project.

Not long afterwards, the folks at North Fork Composites sent a box. This one had a good number of multi-piece blanks, which helped the project even further. I tossed in another 50 blanks out of my own G. Loomis blank stock and began the project in earnest.

In December of 2009, the resulting article was published in the Volume 12 #6 Issue of RodMaker Magazine. A future article, which includes more data on other aspects of the test, will appear sometime in 2011. I knew the article would be popular, but perhaps the biggest surprise was to have so many commercial rod companies call and ask for copies of the magazine to share with their warranty departments. This was information that I had assumed all commercial rod operations would already have documented. As it turns out, most hadn’t and the RodMaker article was, according to them, a real help for their warranty inspectors.

It was an enlightening although unsettling process breaking all those blanks just to gain a little more knowledge. And it was made possible by Jason Brunner at St. Croix Rod Company, and Jon Bial and Gary Loomis at North Fork Composites. Only with their generous help were we able to break enough blanks to ensure that what we were seeing were repeatable, dependable results instead of mere happenstance.

Tom Kirkman



Collectively, the custom rod building craft has always had an impact upon commercial rod manufacturing. They watch the custom building craft for new methods, techniques, trends and ideas. Almost every single commercial rod building operation in North America subscribes to RodMaker Magazine. The reason should be obvious.

Individually, however, few custom builders can claim to have much influence over what the commercial makers churn out. There is one exception, however – Rich Forhan. In fact, if you study the current bass rod offerings from nearly every commercial maker in that field, you will find that the vast majority of those rods mimic what Rich Forhan was doing some 15 or more years ago.

Rich didn’t invent “split-grips” – surf rods had been built that way for decades. Nor was the idea of not using a fore-grip unique to Rich – many old time wooden rods were sold without anything forward of the reel seat. And of course, the spiral wrap didn’t originate with Rich either – that goes back to the early 1900s. What Rich did, however, was take a handful of existing ideas, add few new ones of his own (the RF-Lite Reel Seat for instance) and incorporate and refine them into a package that greatly reduced weight and increased sensitivity. If you take a look at one of Rich’s rods you immediately notice the minimalist concept that pervades every aspect involved. What’s there is needed and what’s needed is there. Nothing more, nothing less. For the purpose at hand, a more simple rod; a no-nonsense rod, proved to be a better fishing tool. Any yet, until Rich came along, no one had bothered to build them this way. Now, almost everyone does.

Rich outlined the concept in his 1997 book, Powerhand Baitcasting. Further refinements were unveiled in RodMaker Magazine. The concept found favor with bass tournament professionals and today nearly every commercial rod company in the bass rod business, along with some inshore and light saltwater rod manufacturers, is building a near clone of Rich’s rods from 15 years ago.

I got a call from Rich just this morning. He said he was thinking about doing a new series of articles for RodMaker on the legacy of his bass rod concept – why he did what he did, what worked, what didn’t and what additional revelations he’s had in the ensuing years. Of course, I was only too happy to take him up on his offer.  The new column will be called, appropriately enough, “Legacy” and will detail the thoughts of the most influential custom rod builder of the past 100 years. I hope you look forward to it as much as I do.

Tom Kirkman


Good Authors…

RodMaker is filled with articles submitted by authors with varying degrees of writing skill.  Nothing gets turned down due to bad writing, of course. The quality of the information being conveyed is the important thing and most any submission can be cleaned up and presented properly.  There are, however, several authors that continually impressed me not only with the information they share, but with how they share it. I envy their writing skills.

I’ve published a good many articles by Rich Forhan. Every single one has been concise and to the point. Most importantly, everything there was needed and anything needed was there. Rich has the ability to say more with fewer words than any other RodMaker author I’ve yet encountered.

Another stand out author has been Dr. William Hanneman.  Not only are his articles well written but he has a unique means of conveying even a complicated idea in very easy to understand terminology. There are no superfluous sentences in his articles – he gets the point across easily the first time, every time.

There are many other good writers whose articles have also appeared in RodMaker – I certainly don’t mean to leave anyone out. But these two have impressed me with each and every submission. They deserve a great deal of credit for the success of RodMaker over these many years.

Tom Kirkman